THE Bush Users Group United is making broadcast ads directly targeting “green activists” and opposing proposed changes to the use of the Wellsford forest that it is preparing to show in the lead up to the state election.
But Greens lead candidate for northern Victoria Nicole Rowan has accused the group of directly attacking candidates through social media, and of leading a campaign based on personal interest rather than evidence-based science.
BUGU executive Bill Schulz said the group had grown to more than 11,000 facebook members this year as the Victorian Environmental Assessment Commission carried out consultations and accepted submissions as it investigated public land in the central west of Victoria, including the Wellsford Forest.
TV ads were filmed last Friday in the Wellsford forest at Tresize Track and included horse riders, prospectors, trail bike riders, dog walkers, hunters and firewood collectors.
In its draft proposals, VEAC wants to see half of the forest added to the Greater Bendigo Regional Park and the remainder become a designated nature reserve where prospecting, dogs, horse riding and timber collection would be banned.
The commission delayed the deadline for submissions responding to the proposals until after the state election, timing that has seen the investigation become politicised, according to Ms Rowan.
BUGU is claiming access to the nature reserve section of the Wellsford is in jeopardy if Labor was to join with the Greens to lead Victoria after the next election.
The group’s ads are calling for VEAC to “get the green activists out of the bush”.
“This is a dictatorship, they just say sorry, we are changing the rules and regulations,” Ms Schulz said, referring to the state government’s referral of public land for investigation.
“A lot of people are fed up with it, there are too many things getting done behind closed doors, they are not consulting with the people and even if people do complain, it just snowballs, goes straight over the top and keeps going.
“This is an area where you can do everything, it is a place for everybody.”
Prospectors and Miners Association Bendigo branch president Lynnie Hindle said the Wellsford was the main hub for firewood collection, and helped people with heating who could not afford gas or electric powered sources.
“This is our stomping ground around here, this is the biggest box ironbark forest in the southern hemisphere, we don’t know why they want to lock it up,” Ms Hindle said.
“I agree commercial loggers shouldn’t be coming in here, it should be for domestic use for residents of the City of Greater Bendigo, for people who don’t have mains gas.”
Nationals Bendigo East candidate Gaelle Broad has joined BUGU’s call to keep the Wellsford open.
“We believe that public land is just that, public land, and it should be managed so that all Victorians can enjoy its natural beauty regardless of whether they are horse riding, prospecting, camping, hiking, or four-wheel driving,” Ms Broad said.
“We should be supporting our gold prospectors and the opportunities prospecting provides to grow international tourism, not restricting people from doing it.”
But Ms Rowan said BUGU’s facebook campaign which targetted some candidates was unhelpful and “didn’t engender good will”.
The Greens want better protection for the forest and are proposing a specific management plan and extra funding for Parks Victoria.
The City of Greater Bendigo submitted that it wants to see the Wellsford become a National Park which would further the controls that VEAC is suggesting.
Ms Rowan said the Greens would finalise its position after the election but the VEAC proposal was a step in the right direction.